It's Complicated

That's how the state's Facebook status would read



illustration by peter noonan

For two decades, the Granite State has been in the middle of a political identity crisis. For a century, New Hampshire was about as Republican as any state in the country. Then, beginning in the 1990s, the state began voting for Democratic presidents and governors. 

There are those who say New Hampshire is slowly falling in line with the rest of deep Democratic New England. Indeed, this year, for the first time in state history, New Hampshire will be represented entirely by Democrats in the nation’s capital.

But while the state voted for Democrats for president, US Senate, and the US House, they also voted to let Republicans control everything in the state capital.

For the first time since the 2002 elections, there will be a Republican governor and Republican majorities in both the state’s legislative chambers and the Executive Council. Though Democrats did win the presidential vote and the US Senate contest, they won them by roughly 1/10 of a percent of votes cast.

A deeper look into how the Granite State voted shows people weren’t confused. In a typical election, the biggest office at the top of the ballot would get the most votes. Some voters would lost interest and stop voting for less familiar races down the ballot, and there they would usually vote consistently for one party.

This didn’t happen in the last election. Voters not only split their ballots between Republicans and Democrats; they also cast a lot of write-in ballots. And the race that had the most votes cast wasn’t the race for president. It was the US Senate contest between Democrat Maggie Hassan and Republican Kelly Ayotte. This race was in the third spot on the ballot after the presidential race and the governor’s race. New Hampshire voters shattered the state record for voter turnout, and they knew just what they were doing once they entered the voting booth.
So, are we still a Republican state that votes Democratic in national elections? Or is it now a Democratic state that, in a few key races, votes Republican?

One answer is that New Hampshire is really a libertarian state, as implied by the “Live Free or Die” motto. This means that, depending on the issue driving the day (fiscal issues or social issues), the state’s voters could really go with either party.

No other place has seen the wild swings that New Hampshire has. Consider that, in the 2006 elections, Democrats won more offices than any other time  since the 1870s, and, four years later, New Hampshire Republicans had the biggest gains in their history.

Demographics may point to a future where New Hampshire will be a reliable Democratic state, but New Hampshire has been a swing state for 20 years, and who knows what politics will look like in another 20 years.

Just consider the flip, nationally, in which Republicans are now seen as the party of the working class while Democrats represent the educated and wealthy. That’s why once-reliably Democratic, blue-collar Claremont voted for Republican Donald Trump this time while wealthy Hollis, a Republican stronghold, went for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

After every election, pundits take a pause to consider the current state of our politics. Following the 2016 election, the analysis is that, here in New Hampshire, it is more complicated than ever.

More politics features you might be interested in

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Tribal Summit

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